Axar, Yadav heroics in vain as SL level T20 series

By, Mumbai
Jan 05, 2023 11:34 PM IST

The duo shared a 40-ball 91-run partnership but the rest of India's batting line-up never found their hitting range.

Momentum is not the name of the T20 game. The Pune T20I was a fine example of that. Every time a team looked on top, a small opening was taken advantage of by the opposition to swing the pendulum the other way. But Sri Lankans caused more damage when they were on top and that helped them script a 16-run win to level the series 1-1.

Indian batter Suryakumar Yadav celebrates after scoring a half century during the T20 cricket match between India and Sri Lanka(PTI)
Indian batter Suryakumar Yadav celebrates after scoring a half century during the T20 cricket match between India and Sri Lanka(PTI)

Batting first, Sri Lanka dominated the powerplay and the death overs. The middle overs were controlled by India. In reply to Sri Lanka's 206, Indian batters barring Axar Patel and Suryakumar Yadav - who shared a 40-ball 91-run partnership - never found their hitting range.

It was also one of those matches where there was no clear pattern. The spinners were effective for India. In Sri Lanka’s case, the new ball swung and how. Another quirk of the match being some players looked terribly undercooked and others in red-hot form.

With 142 runs to get in the final 10 overs, India were in big trouble. Even with the world’s most on-song batter Yadav at the crease, he needed help. It came in the form of Axar, who despite his frail frame and thin shoulders, summoned enough power to smash six 6’s in an innings 65 (31) that gave Sri Lanka a real scare. Axar well and truly turned it on with three consecutive sixes against Wanindu Hasaranga in the 16th over which went for 25 runs. Soon Yadav began to find his strokes. But his dismissal after making 51 (36), despite some late big-hitting by Mavi, saw India end up on the losing side.

For Sri Lanka, there were many batting heroes. A hat-trick of no-balls by the returning-from-illness Arshdeep Singh was just the trigger Kushal Mendis needed to get off the mark after four balls. He, then, began to motor along, courtesy a four and a six off wayward free-hit deliveries in the second over of the innings. India’s new ball pace bowling continued to be indisciplined as Mavi overstepped and overpitched to give another easy boundary hit to Mendis. With three 4’s and four 6’s Mendis brought up his 50 in 27 balls.

But it was the turn of the Indian spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel to put the brakes on the scoring. While Mendis was firing from his end, his fellow opener Pathum Nissanka wasn’t finding the big hits. A couple of economical powerplay overs by spin and mounting scoreboard pressure resulted in Mendis’ wicket. Chahal’s slider sent Mendis (52 off 31) back lbw and wickets continued to tumble as Indian spinners controlled the middle overs. From 0/80 in 8, the visitors were reduced to 4/113 in 14.

That’s when left-handed Charith Asalanka found his gears. A six off the front foot, a six off the back foot off Chahal and a smashing six where he pulled Umran Malik away saw Sri Lanka hit top gear in their death overs onslaught. Asalanka’s good work was topped by captain Dasun Shanaka’s 22-ball 56 that involved six 6’s. Three of those sixes came in the final over bowled by Mavi, who couldn’t build on his impressive debut. Arshdeep had an even poorer day, ending up bowling five of the seven Indian no-balls. India conceded 22 extra runs in those free-hits.

Asalanka took the attack against Malik’s extra pace too but the Jammu fast bowler still created his own moments of magic. None more sparkling than Wanindu Hasaranga’s dismissal where he had his woodwork disturbed, first ball, by a searing length ball on off-stump whose line he missed. With Malik (4-0-48-3), you know what to expect - he will be expensive but the wickets he gets can be priceless. It didn’t help that India leaked 138 runs in 10 overs bowled between Malik, Arshdeep and Mavi. Chahal and Axar’s combined figures read 8-0-54-3.

Indian batters had come out with a pre-set plan to bat in top gear in the powerplay. But against high-quality swing bowling by Sri Lanka, most of that intent was nipped in the bud. Ishan Kishan’s misjudgment against an inswinger, Shubman Gill’s awkward half-pull that ended in mid-on’s hands and Rahul Tripathi’s slash, only to be caught behind, pegged India back. Hardik Pandya’s hard hands were his undoing against a quality away swinger by Chamika Karunaratne. Between Karunaratne, Dilshan Madushanka and Kasun Rajita, they had reduced India to 34/4 inside 5 overs.

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    Rasesh Mandani loves a straight drive. He has been covering cricket, the governance and business side of sport for close to two decades. He writes and video blogs for HT.

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